- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In his first training camp with the Raiders the fear came back. "I thought I stunk," he says. "I had no confidence—none. I couldn't understand why they'd drafted me in the second round."
He remembers lining up for his first live-contact drill and looking across the line at the glare of 300-pound Artie Shell. "I thought. Oh my God," Long says.
He sits in his grandmother's kitchen in Charlestown, his great frame crowding the room, his face alight and open as he tells these stories. It's the face of innocence, an Irish minstrel boy's face transported to the body of a massive grown man. This magnificent body, combined with those clean, chiseled good looks, already has the Hollywood talent scouts buzzing. Now where is there a part for a 275-pound choirboy? He is 25 years old with two years of All-Pro behind him, a wife who has completed two years of law school and a healthy baby son named Christopher Howard Long. It's all there ahead of him, a life of infinite promise, and yet almost every story he tells about himself, every anecdote, has an undercurrent of despair. It's not me, he seems to be telling you, this isn't really me that you see here in front of you.
Long achieved celebrity status in 1983, his first All-Pro year. Writers who met him for the first time during Super Bowl week in Tampa in the tent put up for mass interviews were surprised by his soft-spoken, articulate manner and his wry, often hilarious way of expressing himself. One morning, with 30 or so writers crowding his little interview table, Long tipped his chair back, stared up at the top of the tent and proceeded to let loose a stream of consciousness that could become the definitive word on the surrealism of Super Bowl press days:
"Give me a day to die.... Are we in Kansas yet, Toto? I don't know where I am.... Oh God, I'm in a tent...."
Some kid, huh? Bright, great talent.
"Do you know what I was thinking the first day they had those press interviews?" he says. "I was thinking. Every player has his own table. What if nobody's at mine? How will I handle the embarrassment?"
Fear. Self-doubt. Curt Marsh, the Raider guard who roomed with Long at their first minicamp, remembers waking up in the middle of the night to see a frenzied Long wrestling the TV set off the wall and preparing to throw it out the window. "His eyes were wide open, and they had the glassy look of a maniac's," Marsh says. "I thought, Who am I living with? Then I realized he was asleep. I called, 'Howie! Howie!' There were nights when I saw him get up in his sleep and start fighting people. Once he almost went through a window...."
Long's wife, Diane, says, "He was always like a volcano about to erupt, always driven. Everywhere we went, he thought people were staring at him."
The story starts in Charlestown, one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts—it was settled in 1628. There are a few Colonial landmarks in Charlestown, but the pervading look is early industrial revolution, dark, soot-stained brick walls, abandoned factories, and the great gray shadow of the Projects. Long's first memories are street memories.